Obituary for Diane Ashley-Smith, former Guild Chairman

Diane Ashley-Smith died peacefully at home on Sunday 12 November.

She initially trained as a chartered accountant, working in private practice and later as an auditor of social services in local government. She first developed her artistic interests with pottery, making numerous pieces which, although beautiful to look at, were always useful objects. Then came textiles, which came to dominate her life.

She was a keen scholar, gaining qualifications in felt-making and handwoven textile design. In 2012 she was awarded a Masters degree in Fine Art from Norwich University of the Arts. During this course she stuck close to her love of textile design and practical craft, annoying her tutors by persisting with subjects and techniques that were deemed ‘prosaic’. She really upset them when she put up a notice saying ‘Please Touch’ next to her work at the final show. She became an excellent teacher of practical textile craft skills and has been praised by friends and colleagues for her patience and her generosity with time and ideas.

Diane had international (mostly transatlantic) links. She was a UK rep. for the Handweavers Guild of America. She attended numerous Convergence meetings where she had items accepted for the fashion show. She was a member of Complex Weavers and the Braid Society, and attended meetings where she both studied and exhibited. For one exhibition in Belgium she wrote that her sources of inspiration were the scientific and natural world and the power and comedy of words. The science showed itself in subjects such as red shift or patterns based on the Fibonacci series, and in weave structures that replicated seasonal changes in day length. Her comedy had a determinedly feminist streak.

She was also a forceful participant within textile organizations. She was Chairman of the editorial committee of the Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers and Chairman of the Cambridgeshire Guild. She used both positions to promote schemes for greater participation by members. However, her style was sometimes deemed too autocratic.

The first signs of cancer in 2008 interrupted her MA studies but also influenced her design work, leading to themes of invasion and disruption. When the cancer returned in 2020 its effect was dramatic and was complicated by a weakened heart. This affected her stamina and her dexterity. While she continued to support and encourage other weavers and spinners she completed very few practical tasks.

Jonathan Ashley-Smith